Men, it’s time to make companies fear weak paternity leave policies

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Parental leave was put in the spotlight this week with news that U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has taken time off for the birth and adoption of his twins. The strongest reaction came from Tucker Carlson and right-wing trolls who spat homophobic garbage and anti-child and anti-woman lines like, “Paternity leave, they call it, trying to figure out how to breastfeed. No word on how it turned out.

Once you’ve made your way through the mud, the short story has also inspired thoughtful explorations of the subject by writers like Liz Lens who in her Men are yelling at me newsletter, asks men to “Take paternity leave already”. The title doesn’t do the trial justice – it clearly argues that the system is down and the fathers are unwilling to intervene. Still, its call to action – to take your damn paternity leave! – has a problem: most men do not have the opportunity to take time off.

Yes, occupational injury is largely self-inflicted. Yes, the men are too quiet in this arena. Yes, improving gender equality in the workplace in general will not be achieved until men start doing what they have always been told they are naturally prepared for. So what should men do? They should speak out. They should sow fear in companies with ridiculous paid vacation policies. They should be in the lead.

A father’s relationship to employment is so strained that we made it the subject of the first chapter of Fatherly’s new book. Fatherhood: A Complete Guide to Birth, Budgeting, Finding Flow, and Becoming a Happy Parent (available for pre-order now). It is clear that the professional risk of being a father is established from the start. Men are simply not offered paternity leave. Fathers largely depend on a patchwork of state laws that may or may not allow them to spend paid time at home during the first weeks of their child’s life. Only five states currently require paid parental leave. New York State, California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Washington State, and Washington, DC now have laws requiring employers to grant paid time off to employees. The leaves range from four to twelve weeks and cover 60 to 90 percent of salary, depending on a parent’s working hours.

Any other leave that a parent may receive is at the discretion of an employer. The best companies recognize the benefit of enabling a family to establish long-term care models and bond. They will offer three months leave to both parents. The worst companies allow ridiculous holidays or only offer them to mothers.

We know this because at Fatherly we are working to change the trend. Our Father at Work program is designed to help employers recruit, engage and retain male caregivers. And Fatherly CEO Mike Rothman has spoken out on leave as well, recently testifying before Congress about the importance of strong paternity leave policies.

Some men take action. Financial giant JP Morgan has recently been stung by such terrible policies. Fortune 500 company paid $ 5 million settlement after civil lawsuit was filed on behalf of father who was denied paternity leave because he was not considered as the primary caregiver.

The point is, aggressive actions like civil rights lawsuits are exactly the sort of thing that will change policies and normalize fathers who take leave. It just seems like fathers don’t have the courage to push companies to make changes, or they’re waiting for women to take the lead.

Unfortunately, I feel I have to stop here to address the fact that I take the benefits of Father’s Leave for granted. But, this is our world. You would have to be a poor model or a recalcitrant edgelord to believe that: a) a father who spends more time with a toddler has no advantage for the child or the father, or b) that he does there is nothing for a father to do when a child is a newborn. It should be obvious that establishing models of early childhood education and care pays dividends for future development. And it’s bordering on misogynist to be so completely blind to the unpaid work women do at home, right off the bat, that you think the only thing they do on leave is ‘breastfeed’. .

Regressive ideas about the role of the father in the first months of a child’s life lead to the status quo. But they persist because men have allowed them to persist. Parental leave is a question of men and leading the change to make it both universal and expected is a task that men should lead. I shouldn’t be the Lys Lenzs of the world pressuring men to take time off, it should be our male colleagues and male opinion leaders.

In his essay, Lenz speaks of the “learned helplessness” of men. It’s an interesting phrase that should cause some cognitive dissonance for the male ensemble. Can you be both helpless and swagger? Nope.

One of the best traits of masculinity is the desire to both lead and protect. We have the opportunity to do both of these things when it comes to improving parental leave. It is not the job of feminists to tell men what to do, or to lead men in charge. In fact, waiting for women to tell us what to do has made their lives so much more complicated. Men shouldn’t have to be told it’s time to wash the dishes or change a load of laundry, nor should they be told how to be agitated for a change.

And it is the unique failure of men to lead that allows inequalities in employment issues like paid time off, or even equal pay and advancement, to fester in our workplaces. You have to believe that paternal leave would be universal if American companies thought that not having it would cause them to lose the faith and the work of men. There is more than a little irony in being told that we are of the “strong” sex and then sitting on that force to the detriment of our children and our families.

Lenz is right. More men need to take more time off for their families. But in or for this to happen, there must be available time off. And it will not be available until men make a point of demanding recognition of their own equality in the provision of care.


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